Monday, October 31, 2016

Civil War in the Southwest Borderlands, 1861-1867

The Civil War in the Desert Southwest 1861-62 has drawn a great deal of popular and scholarly interest. It remains a source of some surprise that a small, isolated campaign that had little chance of becoming anything more than a quixotic Confederate adventure was able to garner such a rich, and still growing, literature. Of the more recent contributions, Andrew Masich's narrative and documentary history The Civil War in Arizona (2006) is one of the best, and he has another, more expansive, book on the way shortly (also from University of Oklahoma Press) titled Civil War in the Southwest Borderlands, 1861-1867 (Feb 2017).

The Spanish colonial martial tradition and the raiding political economy of the indigenous populations of the Southwest are certainly not previously unexplored topics, but the book description claims that Masich "is the first to analyze these conflicts [between 'Indians, Hispanos, and Anglos'] as interconnected civil wars. Based on previously overlooked Indian Depredation Claim records and a wealth of other sources, this book is both a close-up history of the Civil War in the region and an examination of the war-making traditions of its diverse peoples."

Multi-ethnic warfare in the region was characterized by centuries-long "cycles of raid and reprisal involving the taking of livestock and human captives, reflecting a peculiar mixture of conflict and interdependence." The violence expanded with the outbreak of the American Civil War. "Indians fought Indians, Hispanos battled Hispanos, and Anglos vied for control of the Southwest, while each group sought allies in conflicts related only indirectly to the secession crisis. When Union and Confederate forces invaded the Southwest, Anglo soldiers, Hispanos, and sedentary Indian tribes forged alliances that allowed them to collectively wage a relentless war on Apaches, Comanches, and Navajos. Mexico's civil war and European intervention served only to enlarge the conflict in the borderlands." I am looking forward to reading this one.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Booknotes: Thunder at the Gates

New Arrival:
Thunder at the Gates: The Black Civil War Regiments That Redeemed America
by Douglas Egerton (Basic Books, 2016).

"In Thunder at the Gates, Douglas Egerton chronicles the formation and battlefield triumphs of the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Infantry and the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry—regiments led by whites but composed of black men born free or into slavery. He argues that the most important battles of all were won on the field of public opinion, for in fighting with distinction the regiments realized the long-derided idea of full and equal citizenship for blacks."

The book follows these units to the fighting front, to campaigns around Charleston in South Carolina and the Battle of Olustee in Florida, while also examining their post-war experiences during Reconstruction and beyond.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Booknotes: Women in Civil War Texas

New Arrival:
Women in Civil War Texas: Diversity and Dissidence in the Trans-Mississippi
edited by Deborah S. Liles and Angela Boswell (Univ of N Texas Pr, 2016).

The eleven chapters in this new essay anthology examine the entire range of home front Civil War experiences of Texas women, be they Union or Confederate in political allegiance or Anglo, German, Hispanic, or African American in race or ethnicity. Other book themes explore how women coped with the absences of loved ones, how they survived along the state's dangerous western frontier, the critical importance of letter writing in maintaining relationships, the social impact of the massive influx of war refugees, the lives of enslaved women, and the general struggle to maintain some sense of normalcy in the midst of war. Like historian Anne Bailey says in her jacket blurb, these scholarly essays should serve as "an excellent survey of the lives of the women in the Lone Star State."

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Two upcoming Siege of Charleston-related books

The Sesquicentennial may have been light on Civil War Charleston releases, but the spring '17 catalog from University of South Carolina Press lists a pair of interesting sounding titles. Days of Destruction: Augustine Thomas Smythe and the Civil War Siege of Charleston edited by W. Eric Emerson and Karen Stokes (June 2017) will "chronicle the events of the siege of Charleston, South Carolina, through a collection of letters written by Augustine Thomas Smythe, a well-educated young man from a prominent Charleston family." His writings "depict all that he saw and experienced during the long, destructive assault on the Holy City and describe in detail the damage done to Charleston’s houses, churches, and other buildings in the desolated shell district, as well as the toll on human life." Of added interest is the fact that Smythe was a member of the Confederate Signal Corps, so his perspective of the siege was a decidedly uncommon one. His letters "detail the daily life and service experiences of signalmen in and around the city during the war."

The other piece of book news involves Chet Bennett's Resolute Rebel: General Rowell S. Ripley, Charleston's Gallant Defender (May 2017). Ripley was one of many promising Civil War generals deemed by the judgment of history to have not lived up to expectations. Bennett strongly believes the historiography's generally negative assessment of Ripley to be unfair, and his biography, which apparently will be the first, "strives to paint a more balanced picture of the man and his career."

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Booknotes: Faces of the Civil War Navies

New Arrival:
Faces of the Civil War Navies: An Album of Union and Confederate Sailors
by Ronald S. Coddington (Johns Hopkins Univ Pr, 2016).

The carte des visite was a cheap and popular way for the Civil War soldier and sailor to obtain a photographic keepsake for loved ones, and, fortunately for us, they survived the passage of time in large numbers. They are the bread and butter of Ronald Coddington's "Faces of" series, which has now reached four volumes. In these books, the author selects numerous CDVs (mostly of common fighting men and lower ranking officers) and, in around three to five pages, tells the story of the person behind the photograph in a lively manner. The well-researched text is annotated and many of the photos are of the rarely seen variety. 

With his previous books covering Union, Confederate, and African American soldiers, Coddington takes to the water with Faces of the Civil War Navies. Through the images:
"... Coddington uncovers the personal histories of each individual who looked into the eye of the primitive camera. These unique narratives are drawn from military and pension records, letters, diaries, period newspapers, and other primary sources. In addition to presenting the personal stories of seventy-seven intrepid volunteers, Coddington also focuses on the momentous naval events that ushered in an era of ironclad ships and other technical innovations."

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Booknotes: The Battle of Charleston and the 1862 Kanawha Valley Campaign

New Arrival:
The Battle of Charleston and the 1862 Kanawha Valley Campaign
by Terry Lowry (35th Star Pub, 2016).

I've already mentioned this book several times on the site. It covers a nearly forgotten campaign, fought simultaneously with but completely overshadowed by the 1862 Maryland Campaign.
"The Battle of Charleston (West Virginia), fought September 13, 1862, between the Confederate forces of Gen. William Wing Loring and the Federal command of Col. Joseph Andrew Jackson Lightburn, pales in comparison to many of the more well-known and documented engagements of the American Civil War. Yet the battle and the activities comprising the 1862 Kanawha Valley Campaign, particularly Lightburn’s subsequent retreat, beginning at Fayetteville and ending at Point Pleasant, were of much more strategic importance than readily meets the eye and held special meaning for many of its participants."
The volume examines in great detail (operationally and tactically) both the Confederate offensive that briefly pushed federal forces out of the area and the Union counteroffensive that permanently reoccupied the Kanawha Valley. Key officers and units involved in the campaigns are also discussed in depth. An incredible number of rare photographs and other images made their way into the book (332 in total). The only thing that disappoints at first glance is the map set, with only single, schematic-style maps for the two major actions at Fayetteville and Charleston. Other than that, the presentation is very impressive.

Monday, October 24, 2016

"HOFFMAN'S ARMY: The 31st Virginia Infantry, CSA 1861-1865"

With well-equipped Union forces in overwhelming numbers lurking just across the state border and a disaffected local population to contend with, the Confederacy was greeted with a tall (and likely insurmountable) order when it came to defending trans-Allegheny Virginia. Arms and supplies were scarce and the region's budding oil industry further siphoned off potential recruits. Making the grim military situation even worse, Confederate and state authorities deemed the area one of low priority when it came to defending Virginia's potential avenues of Union invasion.

From this troubled military and political milieu emerged the 31st Virginia, a Confederate infantry regiment comprised of volunteers from nine western Virginia counties. David Wooddell's Hoffman's Army: The 31st Virginia Infantry, CSA 1861-1865 (Author, 2016) is a new regimental study that examines at length the organization and Civil War service history of the unit.

I've only read the first four chapters (thus categorizing this as a "Book Snapshot," and not a full review). In them, Wooddell ably recreates for the reader the military and political situation in western Virginia, while also carefully documenting the raising of Confederate companies in the region and their incorporation into what would become the 31st regiment. From the Confederate perspective, it is one of the better treatments of the early war months in western Virginia. Regional military operations (ex. at Philippi, Corrick's Ford, Laurel Hill, Greenbrier River, Allegheny Mountain, and other places) are recounted to a satisfactory level of detail, while also dutifully highlighting the actions of the officers (among them field grade officers William L. Jackson and the John S. Hoffman of the title) and men of the 31st. As with most better books of this type, mini-biographies of the regimental officers are plentiful.

The notes indicate a strong emphasis on primary source research. The author mined manuscript collections at the National Archives and a few other repositories in Virginia and West Virginia, and he does a fine job of integrating the material (from both officers and enlisted soldiers) into the text. Wooddell also created a large set of original maps for the book, and, though a bit small, they are of better-than-average usefulness.

Skimming through the rest of the book, one finds similarly intensive treatments of the regiment's role in a series of eastern theater campaigns and battles fought between 1862 and 1865. These include Jackson's Valley Campaign, the Peninsula Campaign, Second Bull Run, the Maryland Campaign, Fredericksburg, the return to West Virginia during the 1863 Imboden Raid, Gettysburg, the Overland Campaign, and finally Petersburg and Appomattox. My sampling of the book's content is admittedly limited, but general concerns regarding problems typically found with self-published regimental histories were satisfactorily addressed in the process. Save an absent roster, all signs point toward Hoffman's Army being a vastly superior upgrade to the existing Virginia Regimental History series volume.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Booknotes: Paducah and the Civil War

New Arrival:
Paducah and the Civil War
by John Philip Cashon (Arcadia Pub and The Hist Pr, 2016).

Paducah, Kentucky first came to national attention during the Civil War when the river town was seized by Union forces in the wake of the Confederate occupation of Columbus. U.S. control of Paducah and nearby Smithfield, and thus ready access to the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, is often interpreted as largely negating any advantage the Confederate might have gained from holding Columbus. As the war spread south, Paducah largely moved into the background, only to reemerge into the limelight briefly during Forrest's 1864 raid on the town. As far as I know, Cashon's study is the first book length study of Paducah's Civil War history. Chapters cover the early occupation period, the role of Paducah resident Cesar Kaskel in getting Grant's infamous General Orders No. 11 rescinded, the 1864 Paducah battle, and Union general Eleazer Paine's harsh military rule.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Booknotes: The Boy Soldier

New Arrival:
The Boy Soldier: Edwin Jemison and the Story Behind the Most Remarkable Portrait of the Civil War by Hugh T. Harrington and Alexandra Filipowski (Westholme, 2016).

The photographic portrait of Confederate Private Edwin Jemison is easily one of the most iconic Civil War images. The tragically fated soldier looks almost impossibly young, even among armies filled with youthful fighting men, and modern viewers of the photo find themselves moved in a variety of ways. From the description:
"Despite the great interest in the photograph almost nothing has been known of the young man himself, and misinformation about him has circulated since he was properly identified twenty years ago. The authors have spent decades researching the story behind the photograph seeking primary sources for accurate details of Jemison’s life. The result is The Boy Soldier: Edwin Jemison and the Story Behind the Most Remarkable Portrait of the Civil War, the only biography of this young Confederate soldier. We first encounter Eddie as he travels from Louisiana in 1857 to stay with relatives and attend school in Georgia. In the spring of 1861, after Louisiana had seceded from the Union, Eddie enlists in the Confederate army. A little over a week after enlistment, and with minimal training, he is sent to Virginia to fight in the greatest struggle this nation has ever endured. Over 150 years later the intrigue around his photograph is matched by the very peculiar accounts of his death, as well as the controversy of his burial location. The authors examine both issues to complete the story of the young soldier’s life and death."

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


[The Civil War Letters of Alexander McNeill, 2nd South Carolina Infantry Regiment edited by Mac Wyckoff, transcribed by Cora Lee Godsey Starling (University of South Carolina Press, 2016). Cloth, notes, bibliography, index. 686 pp. ISBN:978-1-61117-536-3. $39.99]

Alexander "Sandy" McNeill was born in Phoenix, South Carolina (at the time, part of the Abbeville District) on October 23, 1832. He was a merchant before enlisting in the Confederate army as a private in the Secession Guards, later designated Company F of the 2nd South Carolina infantry regiment (one of the core units of the Kershaw Brigade). Surviving a serious wound received late in the war, McNeill was an eyewitness to the conflict from beginning to end. His wartime letters to friend and future spouse Almirah Haseltine "Tinie" Simmons from April 17, 1861 to May 2, 1865 are collected in The Civil War Letters of Alexander McNeill, 2nd South Carolina Infantry Regiment. The volume is remarkable on a number of fronts, not least of which is the sheer number of letters involved, which together fill nearly 600 pages. Editor Mac Wyckoff regards the McNeill letters as the "largest and best" collection he has ever encountered in his over three decades of primary documentary research.

As a frequent reader of Civil War edited correspondence, it is easy to feel more than a bit jaded toward the prospect of reading yet another set of letters filled with observations about officers, regimental politics, picket duty, skirmishes, battles, marches, national politics, religion, camp life, weather, the natural environment, illness, morale, and food, to go along with regular inquiries about friends, family, and general home front goings on. McNeill comments on all of these matters and more, but what really set his letters apart from the pack are their literate quality, consistent lengthiness, frequent depth of detail offered, and general persistence of those characteristics all the way through the entire war-spanning correspondence run. It is also worthy of mention that, of the other 170 men who eventually served in Company F, McNeill specifically mentions 90 of them by name at least once in his letters. In another helpful nod to future researchers and genealogical enthusiasts, he also sends Tinie descriptive lists of the company's casualties after each major engagement.

A large number of the early war period letters are dominated by McNeill's repeated declarations of love toward his friend (and ardently wished for future spouse) Tinie and his anxious hope for reciprocal feelings on her part. She was a widow who inherited a substantial estate from her first husband, and legal concerns over its stewardship (after Sandy and Tinie were married) also dominate a long string of letters.

For the Bull Run Campaign, McNeill writes much about the construction of his brigade's defensive lines but very little about the battle itself. In the interlude between First Bull Run and the Peninsula Campaign, he describes many actions that occurred along the picket lines in northern Virginia, as well as the devastating effects of disease upon the new soldiers. Unfortunately, a long October 1861 to August 1862 gap (with the resumption of regular letter writing from his hospital bed) meant that no Peninsula/Seven Days, Second Bull Run, or Antietam letters survived. On a related note, it was a bit surprising to learn that convalescent soldiers returning to the front were collected in a Richmond prison (McNeill was more bemused about this than offended) before being forwarded to the army in a large group. McNeill also married Tinie during the "lost" time.

Similar to before, for the Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville campaign and battle periods there is more information in the letters on picket actions, marches, and camp life than observational details about the main fighting. Though often expressing his enthusiastic support for South Carolina's slave society and Confederate fortunes at large, McNeill must have felt somewhat disillusioned with the war by its mid-point as he mentions on more than one occasion his desire to obtain a substitute and become a sutler. You don't see that very often in soldier letters, however, such thoughts seemed to have been banished from his mind after his election to lieutenant in 1863.

For those seeking more in the way of on-the-ground battle perspectives, the trend of McNeill not writing much about the actual fighting changes for the better with Gettysburg, as numerous letters extensively describe his observations of the march to Gettysburg, the battle itself, and the retreat. His letters are highly critical of the generalship displayed in the battle and also regard as wasteful folly the idea of Confederate armies conducting strategic offensives into the North.

Later letters describe McNeill's trip with James Longstreet's First Corps to North Georgia, the Chickamauga battle, and the Knoxville Campaign. He didn't write much about the Wilderness battle and a terrible wound suffered at Spotsylvania in May 1864 meant that few Overland Campaign details would be forthcoming. McNeill recovered and rejoined the army in August, his division augmenting Jubal Early's small army in the Shenandoah Valley. At the conclusion of that campaign, McNeill and his unit returned to the siege lines around Richmond.

In early 1865, Kershaw's Brigade returned home to South Carolina to oppose Sherman's march north. During that time, McNeill's letters maintained both their high frequency and voluminousness. Events from a number of skirmishes and battles fought in the Carolinas are recounted in the 1865 letters, but worries about home, the consequences of defeat, and dimming prospects for the future wore heavily on McNeill's mind, and he unburdened himself at length to Tinie on those issues, as well.

As his unit continually retreated before Sherman's seemingly invincible host, McNeill's expressed views on the war understandably became increasingly despondent in nature. He rightly predicted the futility of compromise peace feelers when the Confederacy's military position was already teetering toward total collapse. He countenanced with only extreme reluctance desperate Confederate proposals to arm slaves (opposing the concept on both practical and ideological grounds) or disperse the remaining armies into the brush. As Wyckoff notes, McNeill's long and very thoughtful letters written during the final months of the war have an added significance given the general decline in available Confederate firsthand source material over that period.

Wyckoff is an expert on Kershaw's Brigade, having also published regimental studies of the 2nd and 3rd South Carolina, and his own editorial contributions to the book are significant. His volume and chapter introductions provide valuable historical context, and his endnotes convey useful added information about individuals, events, and places mentioned in the letters. The important roles McNeill descendants played in preserving and transcribing the letters are also properly recognized. The McNeill letters truly are exceptional, and hats off to editor and press for not only their scholarly presentation of the collection but also for publishing the material in full.

Click here for more CWBA reviews of USC press titles

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Booknotes: Gathering to Save a Nation

New Arrival:
Gathering to Save a Nation: Lincoln and the Union's War Governors
by Stephen D. Engle (UNC Press, 2016).

Apparently, this is the first full-length treatment of the relationship between Lincoln and Union state governors to be published since William Hesseltine's 1948 study Lincoln and the War Governors. One of Engle's main goals is to challenge the popular image of Lincoln as a master orchestra leader and manipulator of lesser men. Instead, "Engle argues that the relationship between these loyal-state leaders and Lincoln's administration was far more collaborative than previously thought. While providing detailed and engaging portraits of these men, their state-level actions, and their collective cooperation, Engle brings into new focus the era's complex political history and shows how the Civil War tested and transformed the relationship between state and federal governments." 

Far from needing to be "handled," the war governors were often talented and effective lead actors in their own right and were absolutely essential to Union victory. "Charged with the difficult task of raising soldiers from their home states, these governors had to also rally political, economic, and popular support for the conflict, at times against a backdrop of significant local opposition." Engle's book is a massive tome, with the narrative running nearly 500 pages and a bibliography that suggests both mastery of the secondary literature and vast probing of manuscript collections located all across the country.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Armies in Gray

Exhaustively detailed organizational studies of modern armies (like those that fought each other in WW2, for example) are commonly found, but the same cannot be said for the Union and Confederate armies. Thus, it came as a bit of a pleasant surprise to find that LSU Press will be publishing a 1,300 page tome next year titled Armies in Gray: The Organizational History of the Confederate States Army in the Civil War (May 2017). The result of ten years of primary research by military historian Dan Fullerton, Armies in Gray "details the development and organization of the southern armies, their evolution over the course of the conflict, their command structure, and their geographic assignment and placement."

More from the description:
"Divided into three-month quarters over the duration of the war, this reference guide details the origins of all Confederate brigades, divisions, corps, districts, and departments. It also reports on ordered changes to these units, providing details on the evolution of Confederate forces and on how commanders deployed them through the entirety of the war. By looking at the organization of the Confederate armies in each quarter, readers can gain a clearer picture of the forces available to southern military leaders as they developed their plans at every stage of the Civil War."
I am looking forward to seeing some sample pages when they become available. Unfortunately, the institutional library pricing point will more than likely drive away many individual buyers who would otherwise love to acquire a copy for home use.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Booknotes: The Colonel and the Vicar

New Arrival:
The Colonel and the Vicar by Edward Rayner (Author, 2016).

The Colonel and the Vicar tells the Civil War story of first cousins Henry and Francis Tremlett (ancestors of the author). Also emphasizing the wartime relationship between the Civil War belligerents and Great Britain, the book combines "espionage, political intrigue, stirring sea sagas, and the crucible of battle."
"As such the story combines other historically accurate and colorful characters, with the two cousins as the central characters. Historical events are intertwined with their actual lives and the part that both men played on that stage of history. In the case of Henry, the story describes his life growing up as a member of a merchant family living in abolitionist Boston, then later as an officer in the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment and his personal battlefield experiences during four years of war. Francis was born and raised in Newfoundland, became an Anglican priest, and founded St. Peter's Church in Belsize Park in England. Though a non-combatant, Francis was the foremost collaborator with the Confederacy in England in terms of facilitating undercover activities relating to Confederate naval operations and the acquisition of warships."

Friday, October 14, 2016

Booknotes: Unconditional Unionist

New Arrival:
Unconditional Unionist: The Hazardous Life of Lucian Anderson, Kentucky Congressmanby Berry Craig and Dieter C. Ullrich (McFarland, 2016).

At least as I recall, Berry Craig's Kentucky Confederates: Secession, Civil War, and the Jackson Purchase (2014) discussed western Kentucky politics and politicians from both sides and at great length. One of the men who struggled against the political current in the Purchase was Lucian Anderson. During the secession crisis and the war, he openly supported the Union cause at great personal risk to himself. According to the description of Craig's biography Unconditional Unionist, newly elected Congressman Anderson (in 1863) "soon received death threats and was kidnapped by Confederate raiders who held him for ransom (while he tried to convert them to the Union cause)" and voted for the 13th Amendment in 1865. "Based on newspaper articles, letters and other contemporary sources, this book provides a detailed portrait of an overlooked but significant figure of the Civil War and Kentucky history."

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Review of Powell - "THE CHICKAMAUGA CAMPAIGN - BARREN VICTORY: The Retreat into Chattanooga, the Confederate Pursuit, and the Aftermath of the Battle, September 21 to October 20, 1863"

[The Chickamauga Campaign - Barren Victory: The Retreat into Chattanooga, the Confederate Pursuit, and the Aftermath of the Battle, September 21 to October 20, 1863 by David A. Powell (Savas Beatie, 2016). Hardcover, 7 maps, photos, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. 392 pp. ISBN:978-1-61121-328-7. $34.95]

The first two volumes of David Powell's Chickamauga Campaign trilogy1 were received with great enthusiasm by serious students of the great three-day2 Civil War battle fought in the wilds of North Georgia during September 18-20, 1863. Earlier this year, the Harwell Award committee didn't wait until the project's completion to show their appreciation for Powell's work, conferring the 2016 honor on the middle book in the series, Glory or the Grave. Just released, The Chickamauga Campaign - Barren Victory finally completes Powell's Herculean labors.

Barren Victory begins where Glory or the Grave ended, with nightfall on the 20th and the conclusion of the famous Union defensive stand at Horseshoe Ridge. By the morning of the 21st, the impressively resilient Union army had already reconstructed a solid new line of defense, with George Thomas occupying the center at Rossville, Alexander McCook's Corps on the right stretching west toward Lookout Mountain, and Thomas Crittenden's Corps on the left aligned northeast along the slopes of Missionary Ridge. The Union cavalry also took up blocking positions in front of the infantry. Though its line could be outflanked on both ends by a determined enemy advance, the Army of the Cumberland held a strong front and was far from a panicked mob. As Powell notes, it will be forever impossible to guess what might have transpired had Braxton Bragg organized an immediate pursuit with his entire army, but it seems clear from the situational picture presented in the book that further Confederate success on the 21st (of the kind that might have sparked a general Union retreat and complete evacuation of Chattanooga) was far from assured. As of that morning, Bragg himself failed to comprehend the true scale of his army's victory at Chickamauga and was not prepared (psychologically or organizationally) to launch an all-out pursuit. In Powell's highly persuasive view3, the most ambitious possibilities suggested by subordinates like James Longstreet were simply beyond the logistical capabilities of Bragg's army, half of which was composed of ad hoc reinforcements that had arrived at the front without their own transportation and supply arrangements.

While a general pursuit was not ordered, the Confederate cavalry corps were actively moving forward. In addition to describing Union defensive arrangements in some detail, Powell ably recounts the probing attacks conducted by Nathan Bedford Forrest's cavalry corps against both the Union center at Rossville Gap and the federal left at the Sutton Farm atop Missionary Ridge. The book also traces Joe Wheeler's belated northerly approach along the base of Lookout Mountain, a sluggishly developed threat to the Union right flank that was opposed by Robert Mitchell's federal cavalry.

One might argue over the proper point of demarcation between the end of the Chickamauga Campaign and the beginning of the Chattanooga Campaign, but Powell satisfactorily concludes his own examination of active operations with the September 22 and 23 pull back of Union forces into the Chattanooga defense lines. While these retrograde movements were underway, Confederate infantry and cavalry also drove the Union covering forces back into the city (or, in the case of Spears's Brigade at Lookout Mountain, across the river). Another chapter looks at the plight of the wounded and prisoners of Chickamauga.

The narrative's final section briefly reexamines long disputed issues regarding dissension within the Army of Tennessee high command and, on the Union side, the relief of Rosecrans and the reorganization of the Army of the Cumberland. Unlike some, Powell doesn't believe that James Longstreet, who was instrumental to Confederate victory on September 20, actively schemed to replace Bragg from day one (or ever, really). The usual suspects take their lumps in Powell's command analysis, but it bears repeating how poorly Bragg was served by his highest ranking cavalry officers (Forrest and Wheeler)4. Of the Confederate infantry division commanders who fought at Chickamauga, the author singles out John Bell Hood, Bushrod Johnson, A.P. Stewart, and John C. Breckinridge for their battlefield prowess demonstrated on the 20th. On the Union side, the book's treatment of William Rosecrans is more positive than the traditional one distorted by his enemies. In terms of underappreciated Union figures, John Brannan and Thomas Wood (in spite of his infamous action on September 20) are praised for their efforts on the battlefield. While Powell has determined that the heroic circumstances surrounding Gordon Granger and James Steedman's fortuitous arrival on the battlefield have been exaggerated to their historiographical and personal benefit, he does rate the contributions of both men as absolutely vital in regard to their enabling the Snodgrass Hill position to be maintained on the final day.

Whereas volumes 1 and 2 were both massive tomes, the narrative portion of Barren Victory comes in at a comparatively modest 134 pages. The rest of the book, excluding the bibliography and index, is composed of a series of appendices. The first appendix (co-authored with Steven Wright) explores in greater depth the harrowing North Georgia odyssey of Colonel Louis Watkins's Kentucky cavalry brigade, as that small force sought to ride through a gauntlet of victorious Confederates and reach the safety of Union lines. The story of its rout by Wheeler on the 21st could have been inserted into the main narrative to good effect, but the fact that the appendix also rather extensively covers Watkins's Civil War career before and after the campaign makes its outside placement entirely understandable.

The second appendix also significantly expands upon a topic raised in the main text, this time the controversy over the relief of Rosecrans. Similar to the findings of Dan Vermilya in his recent study of James Garfield's Civil War career, Powell discovered no direct ties between Garfield's actions and Rosecrans's ouster (the decision already having been made days before Garfield's meeting with Stanton) beyond some indiscreet correspondence between the future president and his friend Salmon Chase. The real culprit on the scene was Charles Dana, whose official dispatches intentionally pictured the Army of the Cumberland as being in far worse condition than it actually was and also willfully distorted the mindset and intentions of Rosecrans.

A duo of appendices represent complete, annotated orders of battle for each army. These also include strength numbers. Paired with the OBs are loss tables, which break down the battle casualties into killed/wounded/missing categories and further indicate percentage loss figures for each unit. All four appendices delve into Powell's research methodology, as well, with the wide range of sources used including monuments, unit reports and returns of all levels, and quarterly ordnance reports. In compiling his loss figures, the author also went the extra mile in poring through hundreds of newspapers, which were rich sources of casualty information. The final appendix is an examination of a late October strength return for Polk's Corps, perhaps most interesting for what it tells us about the extent to which its component formations were able to recover from their Chickamauga losses.

Barren Victory is also where the trilogy's massive bibliography finally appears. New information is discovered (or rediscovered) all the time, of course, but this particular compilation will serve scholars and enthusiasts alike as the standard Chickamauga source collection far into the foreseeable future. Powell also adds unit associations to the list of manuscript collections, an extremely helpful aid that he rightly contends should become common practice. Beyond a number of typos, the book lacks noticeable problems of any great significance. A wish-list item missing from the volume's cartography is a detailed map of the Chattanooga earthwork defenses constructed by the Army of the Cumberland in the immediate aftermath of Chickamauga.

In content scope, detail, and analysis, David Powell's uncommonly comprehensive Chickamauga trilogy clearly surpasses all previous efforts. Current students of western theater Civil War military history will likely never find the need for another Chickamauga tactical study volume in their lifetimes, or perhaps even those of their descendants.

1 - Volumes 1 and 2:
The Chickamauga Campaign - A Mad Irregular Battle: From the Crossing of Tennessee River Through the Second Day, August 22 - September 19, 1863 (2015).
The Chickamauga Campaign - Glory or the Grave: The Breakthrough, the Union Collapse, and the Defense of Horseshoe Ridge, September 20, 1863 (2015).
2 - The Battle of Chickamauga has traditionally been considered a two-day battle, but Powell argues convincingly that the fighting on the 18th should also be included as part of the main battle. Whether this view will gain general acceptance remains to be seen.
3 - A new military biography of Braxton Bragg authored by Earl Hess concurs with Powell's assessment of the Army of Tennessee's limited options. Like Hess, Powell also regards Bragg as an able strategist and organizer whose dismal personal leadership qualities unsuited him to field army command.
4 - See Powell's Failure in the Saddle: Nathan Bedford Forrest, Joe Wheeler, and the Confederate Cavalry in the Chickamauga Campaign (2010).

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Booknotes: Hoffman's Army

New Arrival:
Hoffman's Army: The 31st Virginia Infantry, CSA 1861-1865
by David W. Wooddell (Author/CreateSpace, 2016).

The 31st Virginia was raised from citizens of nine western Virginia counties. The first four chapters of Hoffman's Army cover the unit's organization, leadership, and involvement in operations west of the Alleghenies. The rest of the volume recounts the regiment's service with the Army of Northern Virginia, through its ultimate surrender in 1865. I skimmed through part of the first chapter and found it to be an informative account of the early struggle to organize a Confederate defense of Virginia's remote western reaches. Interestingly, the author credits the early oil industry boom in the region for drawing already scarce manpower away from the ranks at the most inopportune moment. Anyway, the research looks pretty solid and Wooddell's numerous personally drawn original maps are helpful (as an example, there's a good one for the October 1861 Battle of Greenbrier River). I haven't looked at where the H.E. Howard series volume for the 31st ranks among that very hit and miss collection, but Wooddell's book more than likely represents a significant upgrade.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Booknotes: The 18th New York Infantry in the Civil War

New Arrival:
The 18th New York Infantry in the Civil War: A History and Roster
by Ryan A. Conklin (McFarland, 2016).
"Responding to President Lincoln's initial call for troops, the 18th New York Infantry emerged as one of the Excelsior State's first regiments and mustered many of its earliest volunteers. Formed of companies from across the state, the unit saw combat early, suffering the first casualties of the Bull Run campaign when they were ambushed on the march four days before the battle. As part of the Army of the Potomac, they fought at Gaines's Mill, Crampton's Gap, Antietam, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. Drawing on numerous sources including several unpublished letters and diaries, this book gives the complete history of the 18th--from the first enlistee to the last surviving veteran (who died in 1938)--with an emphasis on the experiences of individual soldiers."
A large 7 x 10 volume with nearly 400 pages of narrative, Conklin's book is a very detailed account of the 18th's participation in the eastern theater campaigns.  An organizational and command history is also explored at length in the early chapters. With its vast array of manuscript and newspaper resources listed, Conklin's bibliography impresses at first glance. The roster is based on 1899's adjutant-general report for New York, with corroboration and correction from numerous other public and private sources.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Review of Ecelbarger - "SLAUGHTER AT THE CHAPEL: The Battle of Ezra Church, 1864"

[Slaughter at the Chapel: The Battle of Ezra Church, 1864 by Gary Ecelbarger (University of Oklahoma Press, 2016). Hardcover, 11 maps, photos, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:218/288. ISBN:978-0-8061-5499-2. $26.95]

A bloody clash between the Union Army of the Tennessee and portions of two Confederate Army of Tennessee corps, Ezra Church was the last of three major battles fought outside the city of Atlanta between July 20 and July 28, 1864. Though the Army of the Tennessee was ultimately triumphant in the July 22 Battle of Atlanta, it suffered heavy casualties restoring the line, and its popular commander, James B. McPherson, was killed. Nevertheless, the battered and bruised Union army, to be joined by newly appointed leader O.O. Howard (who would replace temporary commander John A. Logan on the march), was quickly tasked with leading William T. Sherman's new plan of action, which involved a counterclockwise shift of the entire Union army group west and around the Atlanta defenses. If all went well, the last railroad lifeline into the city would be severed, forcing the Confederates to either fight at a disadvantage or abandon Atlanta entirely.

Naturally, aggressive Army of Tennessee commander John Bell Hood sought to thwart this latest existential threat to his hold on the city. Unfortunately for the Confederates, Hood's plan to first block Sherman's vanguard (Logan's Fifteenth Corps) north of the Lick Skillet Road and then engulf the enemy flank and rear from the west broke down into an uncoordinated series of frontal attacks that cost between 3,000 and 3,500 Confederate casualties. Adding insult to injury, Union losses were only one-sixth of that figure.Slaughter at the Chapel: The Battle of Ezra Church, 1864 fully recounts the events of this battle, while also marking it as an important turning point in the campaign. From that point onward, the fighting morale of the Confederate soldiers defending Atlanta was broken.

According to author Gary Ecelbarger, the best evidence suggests that Hood planned a two-day battle (July 28 and 29). During the first phase on July 28, S.D. Lee, less than two days in command of his corps, would take two divisions three miles west of Atlanta on the Lick Skillet Road and seize the heights around Ezra Church. The next day, A.P. Stewart would march four divisions (his own corps plus one unnamed division) across the rear and beyond Lee's position and wheel around and behind the Union right flank, rolling it up from the west. It was an ambitious plan with a decidedly odd timetable that depended too much on the Union opponent remaining static and doing the expected. Still unsure of Union intentions, Hood delayed ordering Lee to move out until late morning, by which time Logan's corps had already deployed in a refused L-shaped line atop the heights (with Ezra Church located at the bend of the 'L').

Lee, who was ordered to refrain from general offensive moves unless control of Lick Skillet Road was directly threatened, sent his leading division (John C. Brown's) directly to the attack without waiting for Henry Clayton's following division to deploy to its right. Brown's assault, which briefly overlapped and outflanked the Union right, was the best coordinated attack of the day, but the Federals quickly rallied to recover any lost ground. A lone charge by Brown's reserve brigade (Arthur Manigault's) also resulted in no appreciable gain and high casualties.

A half hour later, Clayton's division attacked the enemy line on both sides of Ezra Church, his movement a messy piecemeal advance (highlighted by the astounding sacrifice of Gibson's Brigade) that ground up his division. At this point, Hood abandoned his original plan and sent Stewart in support of Lee. Stewart guided his leading division (Edward Walthall's) into the worst possible avenue of attack, the roughly same ground crossed by Brown but now newly reinforced by fresh troops from the Union Sixteenth and Seventeenth Corps. Walthall's attack, which was launched at 2 p.m. and lasted roughly an hour in duration, did little more than add greatly to the Confederate casualty list. Thankfully for the Confederate rank and file, the wounding in rapid succession of Stewart and W.W. Loring (the general commanding the division immediately behind Walthall's) resulted in the battle petering out with no further assaults on that day.

As with all his previous works, the author's battle narrative in Slaughter at the Chapel is superb. While it certainly helps that the actual battle was fought in distinct stages, Ecelbarger organizes his account of the battle in a clear manner, skillfully weaving small unit tactical detail with astutely informed leadership analysis and terrain appreciation. His efforts are supported by an excellent set of 11 maps, which trace the movements and positions of individual regiments as much as possible while also emphasizing the sloping, heavily wooded nature of the battlefield. Readers are familiar with descriptions of the extremely rugged nature of the ground fought over north of the Chattahoochee River during the initial phases of the Georgia Campaign, but it does deserve repeating that the fighting ground immediately around Atlanta itself was often little more conducive to organized military maneuver, and the maps do a good job of demonstrating that reality. With essentially no artillery and only the most rudimentary of temporary breastworks located along the battle line, a persuasive argument is made in the book that the primary difference maker in the battle was superior Union command and control (trumping previously raised issues like terrain advantages or more effective Union firepower*). The Confederate officer corps, already decimated by the relentlessness of the 1864 campaign (especially at the lowest level, with captains frequently leading regiments), was further brutalized at all command levels and at each phase of the Ezra Church battle.

Given Lee's very poor performance in corps command (demonstrating at Ezra Church the same leadership weaknesses displayed earlier at the Battle of Tupelo), Ecelbarger's willingness to assign much responsibility for the disaster at the feet of Lee is rather surprisingly restrained. His point that the Union forces might have put to equally good use the time that the impatient Lee could have used to assemble both of his divisions for a coordinated attack is well taken to some degree, but it cannot entirely excuse Lee's conduct, especially when only a relatively brief delay in attacking might have made an immense difference in the outcome of the battle. The author appropriately condemns Lee's rather shameful blaming of his men (who in actuality fought like lions) for a lack of spirit on the attack, as well as his collusion with Brown in scapegoating Manigault's Brigade.

Competing views on Lee's shortcomings aside, Ecelbarger is almost surely correct in placing most of the blame for the Ezra Church defeat upon Hood himself, who detained Lee within the Atlanta defense for nearly the entire morning. This act practically ensured that the Ezra Church heights would be already occupied by Howard's army by the time Lee arrived. The Confederate army commander also never personally visited the battlefield (though he was only a few miles away) while also neglecting to appoint a single leader for the action when both Lee and Stewart were present on the same battlefield. One might argue that Hood's absence was justified by his need to maintain overall direction of the army (and keep high level tabs on the Union cavalry raids to the south), but surely the Ezra Church movement was a moment in the campaign too critical to entrust entirely to the green S.D. Lee. William J. Hardee (even though he and Hood did not personally get along well) could surely have handled the relatively static Atlanta front while Hood was away.

If any one person could be described as the "hero" of Ecelbarger's narrative, that individual would be John A. Logan. Swallowing his pride at being replaced by Howard, Logan led the Fifteenth Corp magnificently during the Ezra Church battle, coolly coordinating the defense and inspiring his men. The author clearly believes that Logan, by his long and distinguished combat record and high degree of success handling increasing levels of responsibility, at the very least deserved more serious consideration for the post of permanent command of the Army of the Tennessee. Ecelbarger finds little reason to support Sherman's contention that a West Point-trained officer was essential to managing the administrative aspects of department and field army command.

While this review might give the impression that the book focuses more on the Confederate perspective, the study does provide equal attention to both sides. In addition to detailing the actions of Union division, brigade, and regimental officers that together served to produce the lopsided victory at Ezra Church, the book emphasizes the high degree of flexibility found within the command structure of the Army of the Tennessee. The book's account of the battle keenly notes numerous important moments when officers were instantly and unselfishly willing to coordinate with, and temporarily serve under, officers outside their own direct chain of command. This uncommon trait bore the greatest fruit during the mid-afternoon phase of the battle, when fresh regiments from the other two army corps were quickly and seamlessly inserted into the Fifteenth Corps defense line at a critical moment.

The appendix section of the book has three parts. The first consists of orders of battle, the second discusses the evolution of how Hood (through official reports and his memoir) sought to present the battle to posterity, and the last looks at the physical transformation of the battlefield between war's end and the present.

Slaughter at the Chapel is another clear winner from Gary Ecelbarger, demonstrating yet again why he is considered one of today's finest authors of Civil War battle history. With the publication of two admirable Ezra Church studies in as many years, a significant gap in the military historiography of the Atlanta Campaign has finally been satisfactorily bridged.

* - Below is a brief outline of some of the key differences (at least as I see them) between Gary Ecelbarger's Slaughter at the Chapel and Earl Hess's The Battle of Ezra Church and the Struggle for Atlanta (UNC Press, 2015). While giving the more highly effective Union command and control its just due, Hess credits Union terrain advantages (especially the ravines that effectively divided the battlefield) and superior fire discipline within the Army of the Tennessee for being instrumental to victory. Ecelbarger is much less convinced. He is also not persuaded by Hess's belief that a major component of Union success was their domination of the skirmish line (an argument that I found intriguing but too underdeveloped in Hess's book to properly assess). Far more sympathetic to Hood's command performance and giving more tactical credit to Howard than Ecelbarger does, Hess also believes that S.D. Lee should shoulder more of the responsibility for the battle's outcome, his own analysis determining that Lee operated too far beyond the acceptable bounds of Hood's orders. Just in terms of scope of content, Hess's study is the more expansive of the pair for the time periods before and after the battle. Slaughter at the Chapel's map set is much the superior of the two. Both tactical accounts of the fighting are top notch, and both convincingly mark the battle as the point when the Confederates lost the capacity to launch further offensives of a scale significant enough to seriously hinder Sherman's advance.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Booknotes: Liberty and Union

New Arrival:
Liberty and Union: The Civil War Era and American Constitutionalism by Timothy S. Huebner (UP of Kansas, 2016).

"The book integrates political, military, and social developments into an epic narrative interwoven with the thread of constitutionalism—to show how all Americans engaged the nation's heritage of liberty and constitutional government." In Liberty and Union, Huebner shows how differing interpretations of the two primary founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, irrevocably divided the sections during the Civil War era, with Confederate defeat resolving two of the most contentious issues: slavery and sovereignty.
"Drawing on a vast body of scholarship as well as such sources as congressional statutes, political speeches, military records, state supreme court decisions, the proceedings of black conventions, and contemporary newspapers and pamphlets, Liberty and Union takes the long view of the Civil War era. It merges Civil War history, US constitutional history, and African American history and stretches from the antebellum era through the period of reconstruction, devoting equal attention to the Union and Confederate sides of the conflict. And its in-depth exploration of African American participation in a broader culture of constitutionalism redefines our understanding of black activism in the nineteenth century."

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Battle of Charleston and the 1862 Kanawha Valley Campaign

[UPDATE 10/7/16: The book was just released yesterday. Follow the links below for description and ordering info]

It appears that Terry Lowry's serially delayed (it's original pub date was fall 2013!) book The Battle of Charleston and the 1862 Kanawha Valley Campaign (35th Star Pub) will finally be released next month. Hopefully, this is firm. Everyone has their favorite areas of interest, and one of mine is early war happenings in western Virginia. Lowry is the master of obscure West(ern) Virginia military topics done right, and this one is right in his wheelhouse. Almost entirely overshadowed by some skirmishing between Lee and McClellan in Maryland, the campaign has never had a full treatment before now, and I am confident Lowry will do it more than justice. It looks like the publisher is giving the project the red carpet treatment, too. I will certainly be looking to pick up a review copy right at release.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Booknotes: Kearny's Dragoons Out West

New Arrival:
Kearny's Dragoons Out West: The Birth of the U.S. Cavalry by Will Gorenfeld and John Gorenfeld (Univ of Okla Pr, 2016).

This study is a history of the 1st Dragoons from the unit's 1833 inception through the end of the U.S.-Mexican War. Along the way, it contrasts the leadership of Henry Dodge, the unit's first colonel, with that of Stephen Watts Kearny and charts the dragoons's tripartite mission of "exploration, conquest, and diplomacy" in the vast West. "Drawing on soldiers’ journals and other never-before-used sources, Kearny’s Dragoons Out West reconstructs this forgotten, often surprising moment in U.S. history. Under Kearny, the 1st Dragoons performed its mission through diplomacy and intimidation rather than violence, even protecting Indians from white settlers." Roughly half the book covers the U.S. dragoon experience of the war with Mexico, so readers seeking a new history of mounted operations during that conflict will find a substantial amount of information in this volume.

Booknotes: Slaughter at the Chapel

New Arrival:
Slaughter at the Chapel: The Battle of Ezra Church, 1864
by Gary Ecelbarger (Univ of Okla Pr, 2016).

I will be posting my review of this title next week. In the meantime, if you haven't already done so, click here to read my recent interview with the author.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Booknotes: The New York Times Disunion

New Arrival:
The New York Times Disunion: A History of the Civil War edited by Ted Widmer with Clay Risen and George Kalogerakis (Oxford UP, 2016).

As we all know, throughout the Sesquicentennial years the New York Times published a series of short essays penned by numerous writers and covering a kaleidoscope of Civil War related subject matter. Back in 2013, Ted Widmer edited a volume of selected Disunion essays (including some not originally published in the newspaper) for print publication under the title New York Times Disunion: Modern Historians Revisit and Reconsider the Civil War from Lincoln's Election to the Emancipation Proclamation. The new 2016 volume from Oxford is another curated collection from the same individuals. Chapter headings reveal the topical arrangement. These include "The Secession Crisis", "Slavery", "The Homefront", "The Battlefield", "Native Americans", "The Law", "The West", "International", "Emancipation", and "Consequences."

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Review of Hess - "BRAXTON BRAGG: The Most Hated Man of the Confederacy"

[Braxton Bragg: The Most Hated Man of the Confederacy by Earl J. Hess (University of North Carolina Press, 2016). Hardcover, 2 maps, illustrations, notes, bibliography index. Pages main/total:300/361. ISBN:978-1-4696-2875-2. $35]

To put it mildly, the Civil War legacy of Confederate general Braxton Bragg has not been a positive one. His critics have charged him with all manner of serious offenses, including gross military incompetence, callous execution of his own men, and extreme levels of vindictiveness directed toward key subordinates. Then as now, however, there are those that have defended the North Carolinian, but their struggles against the tide have made little or no impact on the popular image of the general. Earl Hess's new book, Braxton Bragg: The Most Hated Man of the Confederacy, is less about elevating the historical stature of Bragg and more concerned with presenting a more dispassionately balanced picture of the general as both officer and man.

The heart of the book is composed of Hess's chapter length analyses of Bragg's performance during those major western theater battles and campaigns of which he was a chief participant, first as a corps commander at Shiloh and later as a leader of armies at Perryville, Stones River, Chickamauga, and Chattanooga. Hess backs up his often strongly stated opinions with a judicious re-examination of the evidence. In the process, he directly and effectively highlights both points of departure and points of agreement with previous scholars.

No controversy exists regarding the quality of the troops Bragg brought to Shiloh from Pensacola. All observers agree that the corps Bragg led at Shiloh ranked among the best trained and organized bodies of Confederate troops. In examining the fighting at the famous Hornet's Nest sector of the battlefield, one aspect of the failed Confederate effort to carry the position by frontal assault that continues to puzzle is why Bragg singled out Randall Gibson's Louisiana brigade (and especially its leader) for such malignant calumny. By tracing the one-sided dispute's origin back to the general's low opinion of the Gibson family, Hess provides fresh pre-war context for an unfortunate wartime event that reflected poorly on Bragg's character. The unwarranted personal attack on Gibson also represented the first strong evidence of Bragg's general incapacity for managing subordinates in a manner that would inspire their loyalty.

In regard to the conception of the 1862 Kentucky Campaign, Hess joins others in praising Bragg's aggressive operational maneuver that seized the initiative in the West and completely turned the tables on the Union juggernaut. The book acknowledges those critics that believe Bragg would have been better off initiating battle early rather than later in the campaign, but persuasively cites the failure of ranking subordinate Leonidas Polk to follow Bragg's orders (either on time or at all) and the critical lack of cooperation from Edmund Kirby Smith as clear signals that no great result was likely to be accomplished by divided Confederate forces in the Bluegrass.

Hess sees Stones River as the apogee of Bragg's effectiveness as an army commander. The disastrous bungling that took place during the January 2, 1863 offensive is indefensible, but the author views the December 31, 1862 attack that crushed the Union right, and very nearly bent the might Army of the Cumberland back upon itself, as one of the war's best executed grand assaults. Hess frames the event in such a way that it is hard to disagree with him that the result of that day's fighting was at the very least a greatly underrated tactical accomplishment. However, in the aftermath of the battle, Bragg's decision to go on the offensive when it came to responding to critics would serve neither him nor the Confederacy well. Coming after similar results at Perryville, Stones River would also further solidify the pattern of half-victory that would plague Bragg's army command tenure.

Of course, Bragg's only undisputed battlefield success was at Chickamauga, and, even then, he would be assailed from all quarters (from brother officers, press, politicians, and the public) for not possessing the ability to turn a tactical victory into a strategic triumph. In the end, the rapid recovery of the Army of the Cumberland, combined with Union retention of Chattanooga itself, made Chickamauga appear more than more like a Union victory. Critics both inside and outside the army harped on Bragg's alleged do-nothing attitude after Chickamauga. Instead of crossing the river above or below the city and forcing the issue, Bragg's army settled into a siege, and a leaky one at that. Here again, Hess places readers in Bragg's shoes and asks them to consider the victorious Confederate army's very real problems and limitations. Aside from the devastating casualties suffered during the Chickamauga battle, half the army (representing nearly all the reinforcements Bragg received during the campaign) arrived on the field without transportation, and as much as a third of the artillery's horses were lost during the fighting. A strike across the Tennessee River would have been very risky under the best circumstances, and the chances for success decreased further when Bragg realized he had no corps commanders he could trust and his cavalry had theretofore proved similarly unreliable. A direct advance upon Chattanooga, and the adoption of a 'wait and see' stance, was the safest course to take and was Bragg's ultimate choice. Whether a desperate throw of the dice was warranted is a matter open to debate, but the best evidence seems to point toward such an operation being logistically impossible.

Essentially every scholar who was looked into the matter has come to the conclusion that Bragg's Army of Tennessee had the most dysfunctional command structure of any of the war's major field armies. Certainly, the opportunities fumbled by Bragg's chief subordinates (among others, Hindman/Buckner at McLemore's Cove and Polk/D.H. Hill at Chickamauga), often involving direct disobedience of orders, is a major theme in the book. But sins committed against command efficiency and harmony clearly flowed in both directions. Bragg seemed to have possessed a singularly perverse talent for courting the disdain of every corps commander appointed under him, and his vindictive behavior and general inability to conciliate disgruntled subordinates only made a bad situation worse. The general had an equally toxic relationship with the press. The incessant scheming of hostile subordinates and the constant stream of public ridicule coming from newspaper editors and reporters merged with Bragg's own failings to render his effective exercise of top command impossible. The general's apparently weak physical constitution did not help either, and Hess convincingly argues that the combination of factors mentioned above should have led to Bragg's resignation much earlier in his tenure. The subject of Bragg's ill health is only lightly addressed in the book's concluding chapter, which is a bit surprising given how often Bragg's "dyspepsia" is cited in the literature as one of the chief sources behind his abrasive personality.

On some level, the constant support of President Davis (due not to friendship, as is popularly believed, but on an honest appreciation of Bragg's military abilities) was laudable, but he too sustained Bragg at the head of the Army of Tennessee long after the general's leadership was fatally compromised. After the Chattanooga disaster finally led to Bragg's resignation, Davis still did not abandon him. While Bragg's appointment to the post of chief military advisor to the president was not greeted with enthusiasm by press or public, Hess does credit the general with administrative improvements and an important role in the 1864 campaigns in the East (most particularly the success at Bermuda Hundred). As the book shows, the new advisor's influence on Johnston and the war in the West was decidedly less fruitful, and Bragg's enthusiastic support of John Bell Hood's elevation to army command demonstrated questionable judgment.

Only on rare occasions in the book do Hess's assessments ring false. For one example, in regard to the suggestion that Richard Taylor take an important command within the Army of Tennessee, Hess dismisses Bragg's high regard for Taylor by writing that the Louisianan "had yet to distinguish himself in largely administrative commands held in the Trans-Mississippi." (pg. 236). In truth, as of July 1864, Taylor had already personally led numerous smaller scale military operations in SW Louisiana and triumphed leading a semi-independent corps-sized command against great odds during the Red River Campaign fought earlier in 1864. It would seem that the more important question regarding Taylor's suitability for replacing Hardee in Georgia would have revolved around the talented general's extensive history of vigorously disputatious insubordination, making him the kind of quarrelsome addition the Army of Tennessee's high command already had enough of at the time.

In the book, Hess develops a metric for assessing the relative success of Army of the Mississippi/Army of Tennessee commanding generals, one that involves adding up all the western army's days fighting battles and dividing them into "days of success" and "days of failure." With Bragg owning 75% of the western army's success days and only 28.5% of its failure days, the author concludes that Bragg's generalship compares quite favorably to that of his colleagues. One can certainly dispute the merits and relevance of such reductive calculations, but they do at some level reinforce the book's argument that Bragg was far from completely incompetent when it came to directing armies on the field of battle.

Throughout the book, Hess inserts excerpts from Bragg's correspondence with his wife, Elise. While dwelling so much on the general's marital relationship might seem strange for a military biography, it does serve the purpose of humanizing Bragg. As a man so often described as an imperious, unfeeling brute of a commander, the tenderness the letters display shows a side of Bragg that contrasts sharply with his popular image. Though Bragg indeed had legions of detractors within the army, Hess can point to evidence indicating that Bragg had warm admirers among division and brigade commanders. In letters home, common soldiers also wrote about how much they respected their commander, and the feeling was mutual. Bragg cared deeply for the welfare of his men. Army of Tennessee medical director Samuel Stout frequently testified to the general's sincere concern for the sick and wounded.

The popular belief, both inside and outside the army, that Bragg would have a soldier shot at the drop of a hat haunted the general throughout the war and for the rest of his life. However, the author could find no evidence that Bragg had soldiers summarily shot or that he approved death sentences at a rate exceeding that of other Civil War army commanders. In fact, Hess found the opposite to be true, with the much beloved Joe Johnston allowing a much higher percentage of capital sentences to be carried out than Bragg did. Though he doesn't have numbers to back it up, the author also suggests that Bragg was probably more lenient than Robert E. Lee, as well.

Braxton Bragg does not attempt to paint its subject as a great general. What it does do is very thoughtfully, and often persuasively, reconsider the positives and negatives of Bragg's character along with the successes and failures of his military career to come up with an assessment of his generalship and role in the war that is dramatically different from the traditional consensus view. Braxton Bragg, more than any other individual, has come to represent Confederate defeat in the West, and this important study successfully challenges the many stale caricatures of Bragg that remain deeply ingrained in the Civil War literature.

• Click here for more CWBA reviews of UNC Press titles •

Monday, October 3, 2016

Theater of a Separate War

For the fighting in the East and West, theater scope military histories exist in various forms but a comprehensive, full-length treatment of the Trans-Mississippi's Civil War has heretofore escaped us. Robert Kerby's Kirby Smith's Confederacy remains a classic, but readers can readily recall its sharp limitations in perspective (Confederate), geographic coverage, and time span examined (the second half of the war). Next spring, historian Thomas Cutrer and UNC Press aim to rectify matters with Theater of a Separate War: The Civil War West of the Mississippi River, 1861-1865 (April). The page count is fairly hefty (coming in just under 600 in number), and the description indicates a sweeping study of the entire area between the Pacific Ocean and the right bank of the Mississippi River. The Trans-Mississippi has received more scholarly attention lately, but historians as a whole still tend to view events there as strategically irrelevant. It will be interesting to see what opposing arguments Cutrer will put forth regarding the theater's importance.